While the green auto industry has primarily been focused on reducing air pollution via emissions, the process of building a car (and disposing of one) is also very difficult and intensive on the environment. Glass, plastics, steel, rubber, and paint, are difficult to produce and can have lasting effects when left to rot in a junkyard following a car’s demise.
Leading minds in the scientific and engineering realms have been devoting time and efforts into solving this issue. As a result, tests have been conducted with natural substances in an attempt to find more eco-friendly methods of building and producing green vehicles.
While these developments are still in their early stages of infancy, scientists and engineers are reportedly touting the following three natural substances as having the potential to transform the green auto industry forever.
Wood-Based Carbon Fibers
Just recently, a team of Swedish researchers created a toy-sized prototype of a vehicle whose roof and battery is completely composed of wood-based carbon fiber
The important element in this fiber is called lignin, and is very prominent around the world. It is actually present in the cells of almost all land-dwelling plants, and is the second most prominent polymer following cellulose.
Researchers hope that “eventually carbon fiber bodywork and batteries could be combined to simultaneously manage mechanical loads and store mechanical energy”.
During the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), a team presented new types of automotive plastics that are “stronger, lighter, and more eco-friendly” than the plastics currently in use.
The group of researchers, led by Alcides Leão of Sao Paulo State University, used fibers from fruits (such as pineapples and bananas) to create these substances.
While the fruits themselves are delicate, the “nano-cellulose” fibers that compose them are very strong. In fact, these fibers have been deemed comparable in strength to Kevlar (a material used in the production of bullet-proof vests and other armor).
Unlike Kevlar however, these fibers are completely renewable. Additionally, lessening the weight of the materials used in a car’s production will automatically increase the vehicle’s fuel efficiency as it needs less power to move its size.
In addition to weight and strength benefits, this fruit fiber plastic has additional “mechanical advantages” including a greater resistance to heat, gas, water, and oxygen damage. Leão believes that components such as “dashboards, bumpers, [and] side-panels” built from these fibers will become the norm.
Hemp and Elephant Grass
A few years back, the Canadian-designed Kestrel car was advertised as the world’s most eco-friendly car. While the car was vastly publicized as being produced with hemp and being able to reach speeds of 180 mph, it does not seem to have been ever completed or sold.
Since the Kestrel car’s temporary fame, Alan Crosky (of the University of New South Whales in Australia) has been one of the researchers devoted to moving hemp and other hemp-like substances (such as elephant grass) into the sphere of green auto production. Crosky elaborates that “hemp fibers have higher strength to weight ratios than steel and can also be considerably cheaper to manufacture”.
While the use of hemp is less popular in the United States, German companies (such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi Volkswagen) have more than tripled their use of natural fibers in car production, since the fibers’ introduction to jute-based door panels in the Mercedes E class (circa 1999).